Bradford-born wine expert, TV presenter and writer Joe Fattorini scooped the 2017 International Wine and Spirit Competition Wine Communicator of the Year and International Wine Challenge Personality of the Year. Eatnorth was itching to find out how the Ironman triathlon loving Yorkshire lad got to be on the telly.
JOE Fattorini has been an independent wine merchant – selling not only to bars and restaurants but celebrity weddings. And now he co-presents ITV’s The Wine Show. He has gallivanted on Celebrity cruises and advised the US PGA Golf Tour about how to swirl that most important wine.
In fact, our Yorkshire lad wrote the first text book on selling and marketing wine in restaurants and presented Joe’s Diner, a series of films on food history for BBC North. He lives in North Yorkshire with his fiancée, children and a Swedish-speaking Dachshund.
Q. So you live in Yorkshire now? Tell me more about how you ended up in
God’s Own Country?
It’s my ancestors. Fattorini is quite a Yorkshire name now. They arrived in Bradford in the early 19th century. They were jewellers and trophy and badge makers. My cousins still have a shop in Harrogate. And my great grandfather made the FA Cup and Rugby League Challenge Cup in Bradford. There are loads of us. And then all my mother’s entire family are from the Worth Valley. My uncle has the last weaving mill there
Q. You seem to dine for one a lot and get refused a table? Why?
“Ha! I made a fuss on Twitter once or twice about this because restaurants seem to loathe taking in single diners. I’m lucky; I don’t eat out on my own a lot. But it happens sometimes and more people are eating out alone. It frustrates me. Single diners shouldn’t be second-class customers.”
Q. What’s an average day like for Joe Fattorini?
About half the time we’re working on the show. That usually means waking up very early in a new country. Then trundling off in a big van with the crew to meet fascinating winemakers or discover that the show’s producers have plans to shut me in a barrel or something. The rest of the year I work in brand and communications consultancy in the wine business. It’s a complicated way of saying I help wineries, importers and restaurants to bring their wines to life for people like you and me when we have dinner.
Q. Did you not want to be a train driver growing up?
Not really. Although with so much family around the Worth Valley I used to see the steam trains a lot. I only ever wanted to be a soldier. I applied twice and was turned down like an eiderdown. Weirdly I’ve no idea why I was so keen now. At school I was always writing, acting and doing bizarre sketches on a pirate radio station we called “Big Bollock Radio”. And I was reading books on wine from when I was about ten. Looking back, what I really wanted to do was be a wine TV presenter.
Q. You spend a lot of time on the train from Yorkshire to London… do you
not get fed-up with it?
Absolutely not! It’s quiet time and I get loads done or read. And I’m lucky to be able to spend time in both places. TV and wine consultancy happens in London. Peaceful calm and decent fish n chips happens in Yorkshire. It’s a small price to pay to enjoy both.
Q. Do you have a favourite wine, region or country?
Yes, but it’s almost always “the last one I visited”. I became a total #fanboy for the wines of Georgia earlier this year when we’d just visited. And got hugely into the wines of Santa Barbara in June. When we’d just visited. About half the time I’ll tell people that Italy is the greatest wine country in the world and that I could happily drink Italian wines every day of the year. Until we go somewhere new and I’m raving insensibly about the wines of Chile, or Argentina, or the Rhone…
Q. What is your funniest moment?
Well, I hope it’s the stand-up routine I did at Ha Ha Comedy Cafe in North Hollywood earlier this year. It was my first time doing stand-up. I only had 36 hours to come up with a routine. Unfortunately you won’t be able to make a full assessment. A lot of my jokes were too rude to put in the final edit of the show, so it’s a curtailed selection of the routine.
Q. Most cringing moment?
It’s probably everyone else’s assessment of my stand-up routine at Ha Ha Comedy Cafe.
Q. So you sold to celebrity weddings? Tell us more?
Ah, yes. As well as being a wine journalist and working in TV and radio, I was a wine merchant for about twenty years. I remember doing the Champagne for Piers Morgan’s wedding. We had to deliver it to his mum. And all the wines for one of the Hairy Bikers. I’ve met them a few times since and we chatted about it. Once I had a competition with my sales team to collate all the celebrities who’d been spotted drinking wines in their accounts. Someone else had done it and clocked up Sting and Madonna and all sorts so I thought we’d beat them. I cancelled it after a month when all we had was Christopher Biggins enjoying a bottle of Chablis.
Q. And of course… we want to hear about celebrity cruises…
We have a few partnerships with the TV show. VacuVin has a range of wine accessories too. They grow naturally out of what we do. One of the most popular clips on series one was Matthew Rhys sticking a VacuVin stopper on my head. So we did a special range with them. Celebrity Cruises has the largest and rarest collection of wines at sea. I was in my element when I first went on board. 46,000 bottles to go at and 22 sommeliers to talk wine too. co-presenter Amelia (Singer) and I do vineyard trips with guests and host dinners on board. We have some fun tasting kits in guests’ staterooms too, where you can taste along to a special edition of The Wine Show on your TV.
Q. Are you on the telly now? Wanna talk about that?
At any one moment, I probably am on the telly. The Wine Show is in around 110 countries now. So usually there’s a channel somewhere with us on. It’s me with two actors. Matthew Goode (The Imitation Game, Downton Abbey, The Crown) and Matthew Rhys (The Americans, Death Comes to Pemberley, The Papers). We’re based in a villa and the two Matts set off each week to discover new wines across Italy and I travel to some distant country. Sometimes on my own, and sometimes with friends. I know we’re on air in the US and Italy and Norway, mostly because people pop up on my Twitter or Instagram to say they’re watching the show. We finished our second series in the summer and it’ll come on air in January. Look out for it.
Q. You wrote a book that is still used today? Why is it still relevant?
I don’t know if it really is to be honest. But people do still use it. I suspect it’s because there’s a need for it, but people aren’t satisfied by what’s out there. There are endless books on how wine in made, where it’s made, who makes it, and what food it goes with. But there’s very little to help people who sell wine to bring it to life, and help use it to run their businesses. A lot of restaurants aren’t viable without decent wine sales. My book was aimed at helping them make wine an integral part of what they do. How to turn meals into memorable experiences. But it was twenty five years ago. It would need a serious update now.
Q. Food history – any northern favourites? You did it for BBC North after all.
Passion Dock Pudding (Only made in Calderdale, West Yorkshire) and Havercakes. They were the highlights of Joe’s Diner. Crumbs that was a long time ago. A friend of mine, Marcel, was a BBC producer. He came up with this idea to travel round Yorkshire digging out stories of people keeping old culinary traditions alive. Everyone we met was incredible. And you saw so much of the history of the North in the food and traditions too. Wars, hard times, celebrations… I’d love to do something like that again.
Q. Any advice to independent wine merchants today?
I don’t think you can be just “an independent wine merchant” any more. You have to add meaning and value to peoples’ lives. Some of the biggest successes are where people bridge the gap between being a wine merchant and a wine bar. Why have the distinction between drinking in our out? And you have to offer people a solution to a problem that other, bigger retailers can’t. Indies are already perfectly placed. They have a relationship with their customers that means we trust them. But ask a lot of slightly older, more affluent wine drinkers what they want and they consistently say they’d happily… “happily”, pay more for a better glass of wine. But they don’t always know what “better” is. If independent wine merchants can use Coravins or Enomatics or tastings and – importantly – their heartfelt advice and recommendation to show how a wine is “better”, customers will pay more. And come back. Remember also, it’s not just about the wine. What’s in the bottle is only half of it. Customers want the romance, the stories, and the imagery of where a wine comes from. You’re not just a wine merchant. You’re a story teller.
Q. Did you vote for Brexit?
I’ll tell you this much. I couldn’t decide until the morning I voted. If you voted remain and you were surprised at the outcome, you are part of the reason Britain voted to leave. I know I had an unusual perspective. I work most of the time in the heartland of remain. I come from and live in the heartland of leave. My partner is Swedish, but I live among people deeply disillusioned with the institutions of the EU. Neither the final result nor the narrowness of the victory surprised me. It’s a very tough outcome for the wine and drinks business undoubtedly. But I now find I’m channelling the spirit of Giles Brandreth bizarrely. On the morning of the result he said “nothing will be as good as predicted or as bad as it appears”. I suspect we’ll muddle through.
Q. Is food and drink a big focus for you?
Kind of. But you have to be really careful. It’s not necessarily a huge focus for the people I want to communicate with. It’s easy to be a food and drink communicator and “share your passion” with the minority of other people who also share your passion. But where you make a difference is inspiring people who aren’t necessarily wine or food nuts. That’s making a real difference. I’m a wine communicator. And I’d say I spend half my life focusing on wine, and half my life focusing on how to communicate better. Look at my bedside table and there are as many books on copywriting and speech writing as there are on wine.
Q. What’s your take on the North UK indie merchant/restaurant scene?
“Vibrant, fun and lucky to have so many people who do incredible work to help it succeed. But sometimes overlooked by outsiders who can think that decent food only happens in a pan-shape from central London up the handle of the M4 to food festivals in the West Country. “
Q. How has 2017 gone for you so far?
Brilliantly. But it’s been surreal. We made series two of The Wine Show, which was bonkers. I think I’ve done around fifty flights this year. I worked in the Middle East a lot too which meant I was flipping between watching the Grand Prix in the desert in Bahrain one day and frolicking in the snow in Canada 48 hours later. It’s been exhausting but I wouldn’t change a thing.
Q. What have been the best moments of the year so far?
I never once imagined I’d win an award for what I do. This year I’ve won two and been nominated for four. I was nominated for the Wine and Spirit Education Trust’s first ever Alumnus of the Year award, then won the International Wine and Spirit Competition’s Wine Communicator Award and the International Wine Challenge’s Personality of the Year. I just discovered that I’ve been shortlisted for the Julian Brind Memorial Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Wine Business. I’m sure the various awards won’t mind me saying though that it was even better to discover my fiancée was pregnant this autumn. The best is yet to come. We’re getting married in three weeks!
Q. Most challenging moments of the year?
Being away from home and my four children. It’s a lot of fun making a TV show and larking about in say, California. It’s tough not seeing your children for over a month. They’re teenagers and very good about it, and I probably miss them more than they miss me. But even so, you do feel like you’re missing out. I have a very understanding partner though. She makes it easy for me to come back and readjust to the swing of things.
Q. What are your big goals for the rest of the year?
Keep my head down, write masses and prepare for Series Two to come on air. We have quite a lot going on when it’s broadcast. We love hearing from viewers and I try to make sure everyone who gets in touch has an answer. Even if it’s a daft one. But it means tweeting at 2am. We have lots to do with Celebrity Cruises too which I love, and I’m working with some wonderful groups in the UK on staff training and making wine more captivating for their customers.
Q. What do you see as being the big trends/ influences on your part of
the industry for 2018?
Here’s the thing. Wine quality is now pretty much as good as it’s going to get. Absolutely, producers will make wines a BIT better. But there’s a law of diminishing returns. And wine faces higher costs, smaller production, greater taxes and the challenge of other drinks… or none at all.
A fifth of UK adults don’t drink alcohol. A quarter of young UK adults don’t drink alcohol. Wine has to add to peoples’ lives. It has to tell stories, create mental pictures, and inspire memories. The bad news is it’s really hard to do. The good news is it costs nothing. You just need a creative idea and to communicate it brilliantly.
The only thing you can do to make someone want to pay more for a bottle of wine is to clothe it in meaningful words. On the bottle, on the shelf, on web sites, on winery tours, from independent wine merchants and a waitress in a restaurant. My job is to help people do that. Traditionally the best “communicators” in the wine business have been journalists who are critics who stand independently of the trade. I want to see the greatest communicators emerge from within the wine trade, where they can help create a more sustainable industry.
Q. What did you get up to on your summer holiday?
It was all over the shop. I went mountaineering with my teenage children in Switzerland and then we had some time in the Italian lakes. Then my fiancée and I had a gastronomic tour of the Cote d’Azur with some very generous friends and we travelled on to Marbella where I sat on a lounger reading books for an award I’m judging…
Q. What did you read?
I’m the drinks book judge for the Andre Simon Awards in January. It would be unfair to pick out any books as they’re still coming in, but there are some absolute gems this year. But I’ve also particularly enjoyed lots of books on marketing communications and advertising. “Into The Woods” by John Yorke is a must-read for anyone in communications
Q. What hidden gems did you find to eat and drink?
In Provence we went to Chez Bruno where we had a meal entirely of truffles. Six courses. The Truffle Ice Cream was a surprise
Q. What are you drinking now in autumn/winter?
Juhfark from Somloi in Hungary and Chianti Classico. Although ask me tomorrow and it’ll be something different
Q. Best autumn/winter song?
Literally anything by the 80s pop band Bananarama. But then they’re the best summer songs too.